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E. Blair Holladay, PhD, MASCP, SCT(ASCP)CM
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For the Critical Values series, “3 Questions With,” Dr. Roger Bertholf, Editor in Chief of Laboratory Medicine, shares his thoughts on how peer-review journals have evolved, how he got into the field of chemistry, and more.
I entered college as a biology major. Mostly thanks to a very good high school chemistry teacher, Mrs. Arlene Bell, I did well enough in the first semester of general chemistry that I attracted the attention of the professor, Dr. Robert Atkins, who invited me to register for the second semester chemistry laboratory section that was reserved for chemistry majors. I gladly accepted the invitation and got to know all the chemistry majors in my freshman class. At the end of the second semester, Dr. Atkins treated the lab section to pizza and beer (the drinking age in Virginia was 18 at the time). I took that opportunity to ask him whether he thought I should register for a third semester general chemistry course that was going to be offered for the first time the following school year. He replied, “I think you’re wasting your time as a biology major,” and I took his response to mean that I ought to be a chemistry major. The next day, I changed my major to chemistry, setting a pathway that would lead to graduate school and two clinical chemists as mentors, Drs. Brian Renoe and John Savory, who convinced me to pursue a career in clinical chemistry.
Years after that fateful beer and pizza party, it would occur to me that what Dr. Atkins almost certainly meant by his statement was that a third semester of general chemistry would be of no use to someone who was majoring in biology; a perfectly logical response. So, in a sense, my entire career pivoted on a misunderstanding!
I’ve always believed that serendipity plays an important role in determining the course of a career, and that certainly was true for mine. Shortly after I started my first faculty appointment at the University of Florida in 1988, I met a graduate student, Mark Bowman, who was a former medical technologist. Mark stopped by my office one morning and asked me whether I’d ever considered teaching a course in the ASCP Workshops for Laboratory Professionals (WLP) program. I had never heard of the program, but after Mark explained what it was, I agreed to co-teach a workshop on immunochemical methods with him. I subsequently became a regular faculty in the WLP program, developed a few additional workshops, and typically was invited to present two or three times a year for many years.
Through the WLP program, I met Kathleen Dramisino, an ASCP employee who coordinated WLP events. One day in 2011, Kathleen called me and asked whether I was aware that Laboratory Medicine (then, known as LABMEDICINE) was seeking a new Editor in Chief, and was I interested in that? Just a few years earlier, I co-edited a book on chromatographic methods with my former graduate student, Dr. Ruth Winecker, and that experience taught me a lot about editing, and I discovered that I liked it. So, I applied for the EIC position and became the seventh editor of the journal. Had I not agreed to develop and present a workshop on immunochemical methods with Mark, I probably would never have gotten involved with the ASCP WLP program, almost certainly would never have met Kathleen Dramisino, would never have been prompted to apply for the Laboratory Medicine EIC position, and wouldn’t be answering questions like this today!
The biggest change I have observed in journal publishing is the emergence of predatory journals, which threaten the integrity of scientific publishing in general by flooding the internet with pseudo-scientific papers that have not been subjected to the peer-review process. While most academicians recognize the difference between reputable publishers and for-profit predatory journals, most of the public do not, and therefore these sham journals have become a significant source of scientific misinformation. The COVID-19 pandemic magnified the problem as people sought evidence to contradict the advice of scientists at the NIH and CDC, whom they distrusted. Media outlets often distort the results of published studies in eye-grabbing clickbait headlines. The overall result has been to diminish the reputation of journals, and that is sad because scientific literature provides the foundation for scientific progress. If we lose trust in published studies, science stagnates because it has no foundation on which to build.